Replacing Columbus: Why He Really Doesn’t Deserve A Holiday

Marc Sterne Producer, "The Tony Kornheiser Show"
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Over the last year or so, there has been quite a bit of attention focused on the name of the Washington football team. Changing the name from Redskins to something else has become the cause célèbre, and people from all walks of life have chimed in on what should or shouldn’t be done. There has been, and there will continue to be a considerable amount of debate as to whether the team should change its name.

However, it always makes my blood boil a bit when the politicians inevitable weigh in on issues like this – sensing a chance to curry public favor and gain any edge they can in their upcoming re-election bids. Now I’m not saying that politicians can’t or shouldn’t be able to voice their opinion on social issues, but when they waste taxpayer time and money by issuing toothless proclamations about a professional sports team’s name, I get angry.

Why? Oh, I don’t know – maybe because there are a few other items ahead of this on the agenda, like making sure the economy is back on track, fixing our educational system so our next generation is prepared to compete on a global level, ensuring that we are safe from terrorist strikes, and here’s a good one: making sure that we don’t all die from Ebola! Once all of that stuff has been taken care of, then I guess it might be OK for our elected officials to pass resolutions or sign letters condemning the use of this name. Ok wait a minute, there’s actually one more thing that they need to address that is a federal issue: Columbus Day.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. It had long been an unofficial holiday, but after heavy lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, FDR made it a federal holiday in 1937. The problem with this is that Christopher Columbus was a despicable human being. A gifted navigator, but an awful person who oversaw the decimation of the cultures he encountered. It is well documented that he endorsed the torture, maiming and enslavement of the peoples there in his quest for wealth to send back to Spain, which would secure his position of power in the New World, and fuel the desire for further conquests.

After enslaving the natives to mine gold for him (a task during which countless thousands died), he found that the amount of gold was not enough. So he established a monthly tithe which the natives had to give him. If an individual fell short of that amount, Columbus ordered their hands cut off and hung around their neck – to serve as a warning for others who might not want to give the full share. Even that wasn’t enough to satisfy his avarice, so he settled on selling the natives as slaves back to Spain.

Slavery is abhorrent enough, but Columbus found that sex slaves were of particular value, as revealed in this letter he wrote in 1500 “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand” So excuse me, not just sex slaves – but child sex slaves. This is the guy our government is celebrating?

This is an easy fix for the folks on Capitol Hill, and I have three suggestions for people to replace Columbus.

The first is Bartolomé de las Casas. A Spaniard, he was a contemporary of Columbus, who went along with the subjugation of the people of the New World when he first arrived there in 1502. Soon after, however, he felt compelled to oppose the treatment of the people there, and went on to universally condemn slavery. He was appointed “Protector of the Indians,” and spent the last 50 years of his life fighting for better treatment of the people of the Americas and Africa. He is generally considered to be the first advocate for universal human rights, and would on every level, be a better man to celebrate than Columbus.

The second is John Basilone, an Italian American and the hero of the Battle of Guadalcanal. For his bravery in fighting off an entire Japanese regiment, this Marine was given the Medal of Honor, and sent home to help with the war bond drive back in the States. But Basilone wasn’t comfortable letting his brothers fighting while he was safely back home, so he repeatedly requested a transfer back to active duty. The request was finally granted and he shipped off to fight in the Battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945. Basilone distinguished himself again on the field of battle, but did so at the cost of his own life. For his actions at Iwo Jima, he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. John Basilone is without question one of the bravest Americans who ever lived, and we would do well to honor his memory.

The third person is another Italian American. You might know him as Blue Eyes, or perhaps as the Chairman of the Board. I’m speaking of course of Francis Albert Sinatra. Who wouldn’t love that? I mean this guy was the king of cool – the leader of the Rat Pack, and he hung out with Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Eva Gardner. Plus he was in two of the greatest movies of all time:  “From Here to Eternity” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Guys could all wear tuxedos that day with the ties undone, and the airwaves would be filled with his brilliant catalog of songs – still a much better choice than Columbus.

So to the folks in Congress, let’s leave the name of the Washington football team alone for a while. Fix the roads and schools, get the economy humming again, keep us safe from all threats both domestic and foreign, and change this holiday from the celebration of someone who committed unspeakable atrocities, to someone we can all be proud of.